Confessions of A Yelper

22Feb09

Recently, Kathleen Richards wrote an article about Yelp in East Bay Express.

I Yelp. I’ve been doing it since October 2007. At first, I used Yelp. Our relationship was casual. There are so many great reviews and pictures from actual diners, people who share my love of good food and drinks. I searched and read and discovered great new eateries. As I dined around town, I was eager to write more reviews of my own, both good and bad. I wanted other diners to hear about my experiences. It became increasingly fun to get and give compliments on reviews, and I kept clicking the radio buttons to rate them: “useful, funny, cool.” Soon, friend requests starting showing up, and that’s when I realized: I’ve become a real Yelper! There was nothing stopping me from going all out now. My new Yelp friends were hanging out in the talk threads and I joined them. The camaraderie felt real. All the regular Yelpers are really in the know about all things fun and tasty around the city. Before long, a Yelp ambassador sent me a message: “Would you like to become an elite Yelper?” Boy, would I ever! I must have been doing something right to get such recognition so soon! Being an elite Yelper means a shiny new badge on my profile, and invitations to exclusive parties at the hottest spots in town! Just days after my promotion to the Yelp Elite status, I went to a party at a hip lounge. There were free-flowing vodka martinis. I was impressed. Yelp must be quite influential and have a generous budget to pull this off! So many people welcomed me. “They couldn’t wait to meet you!” the Yelp ambassador told me as soon as I entered. The music was loud. I was shoulder-to-shoulder with elite Yelpers. Cameras were flashing. Cocktail glasses were clinking. Everyone was laughing, hugging and having a good time. Nobody remembered it was a school night. I bet the lounge that hosted the party will be getting a lot more new business now that all the Yelp elites have been there. Good for them!

After the party, the buzz continued in the talk threads. More friend requests poured in. Then a funny thing happened. People in other cities wanted to be “friends” with me. What was I to make of that? Maybe they were planning to visit Seattle soon and wanted to get a local’s opinions? Hmm, okay, why not. I want to be friendly, right? Friend request approved. But wait! This other wannabe friend has only 4 review and 2300+ friends! Whoa! How did he do that? He must be very popular and already know lots of Yelpers. I wonder when his Yelp ambassador will give him an Elite badge. What about all those posts in the talk threads from new people that need advice but get ignored or made fun of by regular Yelpers? What exactly is this “Seattle freeze” thing and why is it such a hot topic? Could it be that Yelpers are cliquey? Nah.

By this point, I started looking at reviews differently. When I search for a new restaurant, I no longer read all the reviews. I scan the pages to see what my new Yelp friends say about it. Am I missing out on good reviews from people who weren’t “elite” Yelpers? I have no idea. I barely have time to read and comment on the reviews of ALL my Yelp friends! It’s really fun when I go to a new place and see a that familiar Yelp sticker or sign. That tells me my Yelp friends have been here and they like it, too!

Yelp made some changes along the way. There are more “sponsored” results now, from restaurants that pay to be featured. Sort of like how some canned food brands pay extra to be stocked on eye-level shelves in the grocery stores, I guess. This pay-to-be-featured feature reminds me of how reviews on City Search became meaningless and irrelevant, but hey, Yelp’s slogan is “real people, real reviews,” so they must have thought through what they’re doing, right? It’s also nice to get a message from some business owners once in a while, when I give a place only 1 or 2 stars. They usually want me to go back and try again for free, but I’ve heard horror stories from my Yelp friends about being harrassed by business owners. Yikes! Maybe I need to be more careful about what I write.

That article in East Bay Express sure doesn’t shine a very positive light on Yelp. I’m starting to wonder if some of my 1 or 2 star reviews will start disappearing, but Yelpers and ambassadors assure us it’s not true. Well, I don’t know this Kathleen lady who wrote that article, but I have met my Yelp ambassador and some Yelp friends, so I’m just going to keep Yelping, and trust that my contribution to Yelp’s content will stay as I intended…

Are you a Yelper, too?

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2 Responses to “Confessions of A Yelper”

  1. Thanks a lot for sharing this. It’s always good to see what’s going behind the scenes. Cheers!

  2. Thanks for sharing, but the problem with sites like Yelp is that they don’t give the business owners a voice.
    We’re currently developing an application where instead of posting a bad review, you leave a suggestion on how the business can improve itself. The owner can now reply to that suggestion and have a dialog with his/her customer online. Now both parties win!


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